August 31, 2009

Books to Read While the Algae Grow in Your Fur, August 2009

Nadia Gordon, Murder Alfresco
Bright and amusing murder mystery among Napa Valley foodies. Sequel to Death by the Glass, followed by Lethal Vintage.
Roberto Bolaño, Nazi Literature in the Americas
Capsule literary biographies of thirty imaginary fascist writers, from the US to (of course) Chile and Argentina. It gains from two remarkable achievements on Bolaño's part: first, while everything is made up, nothing is exaggerated (I feel certain I have read books by both J. M. S. Hill and Zach Sodenstern, and as for the Colonia Renacer in "Willy Schürholz", well...); and second, his literary Nazis are not just caricatures, and in some cases (e.g., "Irma Carrasco") actually affecting. Emphatically recommended if you are in the mood for black hilarity.
Thomas Harlan, Land of the Dead
Third volume of his series of Lovecraftian alternate-history space operas. (On which, see here.) More stuff-blowing-up than I remember from the earlier books, but still plenty of ancient extraterrestrial secrets man was not meant to know.
Greg Rucka and Steve Lieber, Whiteout: Melt
More Antarctic crime-fiction, this time in thriller rather than mystery mode.
The Middleman
I think I am demographically compelled to be charmed by this; and I am.
G. Willow Wilson and M. K. Perker, Air: Letters from Lost Countries
Shivers, a.k.a. They Came From Within
Still scary and disturbing, despite decades of intervening horror movies about zombies, parasites crawling inside people, etc. (Ebert's contemporary review is informative without having much spoilerage.) The crisis was effective, and (in a twisted way) romantic.
Observation: lots of attitudes have certainly changed ("she was twelve"); and while gadgets, clothes, cars, look out-of-date, the kind of life depicted is still very much ours. You could remake this today with hardly a change to the plot at all, except that you'd need keep everybody's cell-phones from working.
Query: why did Romero's zombies (i.e., the re-animated dead) take over the world, rather than Cronenberg's parasite hosts? Did the latter involve too much sex to fly commercially?
Alexandra Sokoloff, The Harrowing
Pleasingly creepy ghost-story about emotionally-scarred undergrads who really should not have played around with Ouija boards. First novel; good enough that I'll look for her others.
Criminal Minds
When did the networks start broadcasting Shadow Unit fan-fiction? (And is it too late for me to change the grade of the student last year who "accidentally" referred to me as "Dr. Reid"?) — Series fatigue set in for me about half-way through the third season.
ObLink: Gladwell on profiling.
Charles Manski, Identification for Prediction and Decision
Review: Better Roughly Right than Exactly Wrong.
Jacob Kogan, Introduction to Clustering Large and High-Dimensional Data
What it says on the label. A short book (160 pp., excluding math review appendix and problem solutions) exclusively devoted to "hard" or "crsip" non-hierarchical clustering, mostly ignoring statistical issues in favor of computational ones, and emphasizing methods that scale to large problems. This includes ingenious tricks for replacing the difficult optimization problems implicit in most clustering algorithms with tractable smooth approximations. The old standby k-means algorithm plays a bigger role than I'd have guessed. Mostly pretty clear, though not an outstanding piece of exposition. (I think the BIRCH algorithm on pp. 42--43 is wrong as written, since step 2 seems to be redundant!) More useful for those in the field, I think, than to those who just want to cluster some data and get on with their lives.

Books to Read While the Algae Grow in Your Fur; Scientifiction and Fantastica; Enigmas of Chance; Pleasures of Detection; Cthulhiana; The Running Dogs of Reaction; The Commonwealth of Letters; The Dismal Science

Posted at August 31, 2009 23:59 | permanent link

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